This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are eating, drinking, and buying right now. Here Genevieve Yam writes about Horlicks, the malted milk powder that can do it all.
In Britain and other Commonwealth countries, Horlicks—a subtly sweetened malted milk powder—is marketed as a sleep aid best consumed before bedtime. But in Hong Kong, the city where I spent most of my childhood, the beverage is a staple at local cafés (cha chaan tengs) and roadside stalls (dai pai dongs), where it’s available around the clock and sold iced or hot. Each sip of Horlicks is rich, nutty, and deeply satisfying—and one you want to return to over and over again.
Until recently, I’d only enjoyed Horlicks as it was advertised: in beverage form. The drink was a part of my wintertime routine—I’d whisk the powder into a saucepan of simmering milk or turn it into a malted hot cocoa by adding a few tablespoons of chopped dark chocolate. As I embarked on my professional culinary career, though, I realized that the powder’s true potential lay outside the cup.
Plenty of pastry chefs use milk powder to add depth of flavor to their confections. As Tiffany Hopkins wrote for Epicurious, milk powder adds “a bonus layer of richness, sweetness, and creaminess to pretty much any treat.” Toasted nonfat dry milk powder is the secret ingredient in this incredible brown butter frosting. As for milk powder’s malted cousin, pastry chef and cookbook author Stella Parks refers to it as “the umami bomb of desserts.”
While milk powder is, essentially, milk in a condensed, dried form, malted milk powders like Horlicks are made with both dehydrated milk and a blend of wheat flour and malted barley. Malting, the process of sprouting grains and then drying them at medium-low heat, results in toasty, caramel notes that complement ingredients commonly used in baking, like brown sugar, butter, chocolate, and nuts. A teaspoon or two of Horlicks is all you need to give your coffee cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and cocoa puddings an earthy, slightly savory depth of flavor that you otherwise wouldn’t get from using salt alone.
I still look forward to my cup of malted hot chocolate on cold winter evenings, but you’ll also find me reaching for my container of Horlicks whenever I’m baking. And when people ask how they, too, can make better desserts with minimal effort, I’ll show them my little canister of Horlicks—the malted milk powder that could.